Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Nuns

I had two parents, four grandparents and two sisters, all of whom raised me up. They each brought something special to the mix, even my paternal grandfather who passed away when I was little more than one year old. I don’t remember him directly, but there were photographs of me on Grandpa’s lap with both of us beaming to beat the band. Because Grandpa was quite curmudgeonly, this was regarded as special and I was told the story over and over. So even in his absence I felt his love.

Beyond my immediate family raising me up, I also had the Roman Catholic Church. Specifically nuns from the Religious Sisters of Mercy as well a goodly number of priests. I began school just after Blessed Pope John XXIII began to throw open the doors and windows to let an enormous gust of fresh air into the Church via the Second Vatican Council. It was an exciting, yeasty time to be attending Catholic school. Social justice, human rights and politics became increasingly integral to the daily class called “Religion”. The Vietnam War, the protests at home, the My Lai Massacre and President Nixon peppered our discussions, all within the context of Catholicism.

There were only two scary nuns; Sister Mary M. and Sister Mary C., both elderly and from an earlier, harsher era. And there was only one priest who was a royal pain, but because I called him on his rude behavior toward a fellow student in front of the entire class, I caught his attention. As a result, Father M. trained me to become a Lector and always tapped me for what he described as the “dramatic readings” at Mass. How could I stay mad at a guy who brought me completely past all of my shyness and stage fright to a microphone on the altar?

But it was the nuns who were the daily constant for me. Even now, when the Church and I are not on the best of terms, I still have a warm place in my heart for the strong, independent, warm, feisty, funny, no nonsense, compassionate, knowledge loving women who constantly steadied my moral compass. That’s why this article in the New York Times, by Laurie Goodstein, jumped out at me. The headline: “U.S. Nuns Facing Vatican Scrutiny”. The lede: “The Vatican is quietly conducting two sweeping investigations of American nuns, a development that has startled and dismayed nuns who fear they are the targets of a doctrinal inquisition.”

Regular readers know that I am capable of righteous anger. So I will resist typing much of what bubbled to the surface as I read the article. I do not; nay, I cannot trust this incarnation of the Roman Catholic Church, with Pope Benedict XVI at the helm, to do no harm during these investigations. Pope Benedict reportedly prefers a leaner, smaller, purer Church. So much of what this Pope wants is antithetical to the positive results of the admittedly near seismic shifts of the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II righted wrongs, reached out to the laity and invited ecumenism. The nuns being investigated by the Vatican now, are the same women who reinforced the Golden Rule from my family home and elucidated the finer points of how to put that simple guide into daily practice as a Christian and as a Catholic. These nuns are the backbone of the Church. We need more, not fewer of these unsung heroines of both religion and education.


dancingmorganmouse said...

my mum hates nuns, because of her experience of them at Catholic school. They were "thrashing nuns". From what I hear I'm glad we had lay teachers when it was my turn. But I have a soft spot for Sister Rosemary, who I met in my mid-30s on a trip to Italy. She was an ex-art history teacher and knew her stuff. Also she asked me if the "thing in my nose" was because I was in "some sort of club". Bless.
I've also a soft spot for a rather nice nun I met in my first job. I don't think she was a catholic nun, I never bothered to ask, but she was lovely and not pushy about religion at all.
There's good and bad in all callings I guess.

Roo said...

Mine where hateful, spiteful, old biddies that would rather crush the youth than nurture them. Shame on them.

Irene said...

I have mixed views on the nuns. I went to Catholic schools for 12 years. Our grade school nuns were from a Spanish order, and from the era of using rulers for corporal punishment, pulling the ear, or just a whack to the head with a swift hand. UGH. I was so traumatized, especially in the 3rd grade. I wanted so badly to attend public school with my neighborhood friends. High School was different. The nuns were from an American order, many were younger, they were the least intimidating group of women, and actually a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

Well I feel I have to defend the nuns I encountered over 12 years of grammar and high school. They were a mixed bag, much the the same I suspect as would be lay teachers. I had wonderful nuns as well as some truly horrific ones. The good outweighed the "bad". I guess hormones played a part as well as luck of the draw.

My favorite teacher was a nun named Sister Teresina who at the time seemed ancient but was probably in her 30s.

I would love to know where she is now and if she is still a nun she was a peach!


Pink Granite said...

Hi All -
I count my lucky stars that I had exceptionally positive experiences with nuns. I focused on grades 1 - 8, but because after public high school I attended a Catholic college, I had more nuns as teachers and advisors and they too were nearly all terrific.

I allowed my good experiences with the sisters, coupled with my deep distrust of the current Pope and his minions, to present a lopsided view of the facts. I have heard the terrible tales of coldness and cruelty by nuns. I know that in Great Britain, Ireland and Australia there have been tragic scandals of widespread systemic abuse. And I don't dare mention priests! (Although I have to say my personal experiences were remarkably positive with them as well.)

I think that when I read the headline and the article, I was picturing the fine women I described in my post being harassed and harangued by narrow minded zealots. The bad nuns, the "thrashers", the hateful, the traumatizers, deserve no roles as teachers or to be in any sort of position of authority. And that goes for any lay people with equally warped views on children, teaching and power.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I'm glad for all the places we shared common experiences of good people and deeply saddened by the recounting of your or your loved ones' painful memories.

- Lee

P.S. Gail - Is it possible this could be the same Sister Teresina?

Anonymous said...

I wonder.........


barbie2be said...

while i am not catholic, i loved pope JP. he was progressive and a true forward thinker. i was in rome just weeks before he passed and people were already grieving.

conversly, i hate the new guy. he reminds me of a creepy funky uncle.